Cornerstone Forum Joins Smear Campaign Against Kevin Jennings

Kevin Jennings

Gil Bailie, lay Catholic scholar and president of Cornerstone Forum, has recently channeled a story that attempts to smear and discredit Kevin Jennings, founder and former Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Jennings currently serves as Director of Safe and Drug Free Schools in the U.S. Department of Education. Bailie’s post (“The Unreported Scandal…”, 12/10/09), consists mostly of material copied and pasted directly from an article in Creative Minority Report. When asked if he stood by the claims made in his post, including the CMR accusations, Bailie did not reply.

The Creative Minority Report (CMR) story is about sexually explicit educational materials promoted by GLSEN, and about a Q&A session in a workshop that was part of a GLSEN conference. CMR links to various evidence supporting its claim that Kevin Jennings is unfit to serve as Director of Safe and Drug Free Schools because of his associations with GLSEN. CMR’s language is shrill and hyperbolic (e.g., “absolutely disgusting,” “horrific,” “gory.”)

Relying mostly on information provided by MediaMatters.org, I investigated two of the links provided by CMR so that I could reply to a blogger named “Ignatius,” who apparently believed the slanders against Jennings. What follows a revised and expanded version of my reply to him.

Ignatius,

Please take a close look at the title of the following linked article, which appears in Gateway Pundit:  

Breaking: Obama’s Safe Schools Czar’s Question to 14-year-olds: “Spit vs. Swallow?…Is it Rude?” (audio-video).

I identified five direct or implied claims in this title:

  • The story is breaking news.
  • Kevin Jennings asked a question.
  • The question was asked of a 14-year-old.
  • The question was “Spit vs. swallow?…Is it rude?”
  • The incident may be viewed on an audio-video file.

Only one of these claims is supported by the facts.

First of all, notice the word “Breaking.” Sounds like this scandal, whatever it was, just happened last week, right? In fact, the incident in question happened nine years ago, at a conference organized by GLSEN, and it was extensively covered in the media, including the AP, National Review, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, the New York Post, UPI, and on Fox News. If the press has refused to pick it up recently, it is because it is old news.

Now notice the title of Gil Bailie’s post: “The Unreported Scandal…” Unreported? And again, at the end of his first paragraph, he describes this as “the story which the pom-pom media refuses to cover.”

Notice the next part of the title, which claims that Kevin Jennings asked this particular question to 14-year-olds. At the end of the title, you’ll see the words “audio-video” in parentheses. Wouldn’t this lead you to expect that we can actually witness Kevin Jennings asking the question to 14-year-olds?

But now scroll down to the video and play it. Notice that it is not really a “video” at all. It’s just a still photo of Kevin Jennings, accompanied by a recording of the Q&A. Are you beginning to smell a rat?

So maybe the adult voice on the audio is Kevin Jennings? No, it is not, though Gateway Pundit suggested in the title that it was. The writer now identifies the voice as that of a “male teacher.” In fact, we know from other sources (via MediaMatters.org) that the workshop was run by two Massachusetts state DoE staffers and a state DoE consultant. So not only is the voice not Jennings’, but it is not even that of a teacher. Gateway Pundit may be encouraging us to assume that the workshop content was also used in classrooms.

There were 30 workshops at this conference, which suggests that four or five of them might have been run concurrently in several rooms. Do we even know that Kevin Jennings attended this particular one?

Next, look again at the title. What is the stated aged of the young person to whom the question was asked? We are told he is 14. But the title of the workshop was, “What they didn’t tell you about queer sex and sexuality in health class: workshop for youth only, ages 14-21.”

Wait. Ages 14-21? Then why does Gateway Pundit’s title only mention 14? Do they know that the age of the student who answered the question was 14? What if he was 21? Or 16 (the age of consent in MA)? Do we even know that 14-year-olds were present?

Now (carefully) read the following paragraph from the Gateway Pundit story, just after the video:

You just heard a public employee ask 14-year-olds if it was rude to spit rather than swallow during oral sex. Kevin Jennings who ran GLSEN is now Barack Obama’s Safe Schools Czar.

Did it seem to you, as it did to me, that something was missing between the first and the second sentences? Yes, there should have been a connection of some kind. The title of the piece stated that Kevin Jennings asked the question, and this paragraph now links him again to the question. But he did not ask the question.

What the Gateway Pundit story doesn’t tell you is that both Kevin Jennings and the Massachusetts DoE subsequently criticized this workshop and that the GLSEN organizers of the conference resigned or were fired because of it. (One of them was later rehired, however.) MediaMatters.org provides the following excerpt from the Boston Herald report:

”Like the Parents Rights Coalition and the Department of Education, GLSEN  is also troubled by some of the content that came up during this workshop,” said Kevin Jennings, national executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. He said people who run workshops in the future will get clearer guidelines… “We need to make our expectations and guidelines to outside facilitators much more clear,” said Jennings, “because we are surprised and troubled by some of the accounts we’ve heard.” (Boston Herald, 5/18/2000)

Again, I would be very careful about trusting anything Gil Bailie brings in from Creative Minority Report or Gateway Pundit. Their story about this incident contains distortions and outright lies.

MediaMatters.org has investigated another one of the charges made by CMR—that GLSEN distributed an explicit safe-sex booklet called “The Little Black Book—Queer in the 21st Century” to students at a 2005 GLSEN conference at Brookline High School in Massachusetts. Here are the facts:

Nineteen days after the conference, an article appeared in the Boston Globe (5/19/09), explaining that 10 copies of the booklet had been placed on an informational table rented by Fenway Community Health officials. The booklets were not placed there by GLSEN, and GLSEN did not know about them. The book was produced by the AIDS Action Committee of MA and is targeted at gay men 18-years-old and older. According to the article, the book uses “vivid descriptions and colloquial terms to describe the ways HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases can be spread and prevented.” A spokesman for Fenway Community Health (Chris Viveiros) was quoted as saying the booklets were included by mistake, and Fenway’s president and CEO publicly apologized about the incident.

The following is from the Boston Globe article about this incident:

Sean Haley, executive director of the education network, which sponsored the conference, added: ”We have very clear policies that sexually explicit material of any kind will not be made available at the conference. Had I seen the book, I would have asked them to put it away.”

At the start of the event, Haley said, network officials scanned each of the 10 tables it had rented, for $35 apiece, to outside groups. He said nobody saw the pamphlet at the time. ”We’re just going to have to be more rigorous in our review of materials,” he said.

The day before the article appeared in the Boston Globe, the Brookline Superintendent of Schools was quoted on television news as saying he believed none of the students had taken the book home.

Gil Bailie and the two Web sites whose slanders he channels are conducting a smear campaign against Jennings. If this were not true, then they would have presented the evidence that I just found. It is readily available to anyone who takes the trouble to search for it. They would have reported the contents of the Boston Globe article that clears GLSEN of direct responsibility for inclusion of this booklet at the conference. This is why I question the integrity of anyone who channels these slanders.

You and I will no doubt disagree about what constitutes salacious content, and we may also disagree about what is appropriate for children in various circumstances. But I think we can agree that it is wrong to make accusations that are unsupported by facts.

(From a subsequent comment:)

Ignatius, it is indeed a big task to exonerate Mr. Jennings in everything, as you say. And that is certainly not a task that I would want to take on. MediaMatters.org continues to publish research on the Jennings affair and just yesterday debunked 17 false claims and smears that are circulating in the right-wing media. (Find the research here.)

When accusations of this nature are made against an individual, the burden of proof should be on those making the accusations. I took two of the accusations from Gil Bailie’s post and showed that they were phony. I think you owe it to Mr. Jennings to assume that the rest are phony as well, until you’ve done research as thorough as I did. If you haven’t looked past CMR’s links, then you haven’t done your research. The Internet has a lot of resources for checking the truth of stories like these, including Politifact.org, FactCheck.org, and MediaMatters.org.

I smelled a rat when I started reading Gil Bailie’s post, and I so asked him if he stood by these stories. Once again, no one—least of all a self-professing Christian—should engage in slander. Bailie did not respond, and he left the story up. So I investigated two of them and found them to be full of distortions. Not just errors, but outright lies and distortions. The title of the Gateway Pundit article that I reviewed contained five claims, four of which were unsupported by the facts. That’s just the title. Gateway Pundit is not a credible source of information. Nor is Creative Minority Report.

If Mr. Jennings is on trial, then he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Gateway Pundit is not a place to go for proof of anything, and I believe that it is irresponsible of Gil Bailie to propagate its slanders. If he wishes to make accusations, then he should take the time to do very careful research instead of just copying and pasting stories that he has not investigated and then not even bothering to vouch for them or to answer questions about charges that he and the stories have made.

Again, my point is not so much about GLSEN or Kevin Jennings as it is about the irresponsible use of the Internet medium—especially on a site that purports to represent Christian teachings—to misrepresent the truth and abuse the trust of readers.

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