Did the media tell the truth about the sex ed bill Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama supported in the
After McCain released a campaign ad asserting that Obama supported teaching "comprehensive" sex education to five-year-olds, many of Big Media's biggest players not only accepted the Illinois senator's explanation uncritically, they impugned McCain's character with accusations of lying, deception and distortion.
Obama's campaign said SB 99 was written to guard young children against sexual predators. The term “sexual predator,” however, never appears in the document. Only 57 lines in the 14-page, 455-line document (a 19-line section repeated almost verbatim two more times) address “unwanted” and “nonconsensual sexual advances.” Even this section is aimed principally at resisting “peer pressure,” not child molesters, as Obama implies.
Here is the small portion of the bill that addresses nonconsensual sexual advances, the only part of the bill that could be construed as applying to sexual predators:
8 (9) Course material and instruction shall teach
9 pupils to not make unwanted physical and verbal sexual
10 advances and how to say no to unwanted sexual advances
11 and shall include information about verbal, physical, and
12 visual sexual harassment, including without limitation
13 nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical
14 sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance. The course
15 material and instruction shall contain methods of
16 preventing sexual assault by an acquaintance, including
17 exercising good judgment and avoiding behavior that
18 impairs one's judgment. The course material and
19 instruction shall emphasize personal accountability and
20 respect for others and shall also encourage youth to
21 resist negative peer pressure. The course material and
22 instruction shall inform pupils of the potential legal
23 consequences of sexual assault by an acquaintance.
24 Specifically, pupils shall be advised that it is unlawful
25 to touch an intimate part of another person, as specified
26 in the Criminal Code of 1961.
The great majority of the bill addresses a variety of sex ed issues affecting all levels of the
22 Sec. 3. Comprehensive Health Education Program.
23 (a) The program established under this Act shall
24 include, but not be limited to, the following major
25 educational areas as a basis for curricula in all elementary
26 and secondary schools in this State: human ecology and
27 health, human growth and development, the emotional,
28 psychological, physiological, hygienic and social
29 responsibilities of family life, including sexual abstinence
30 and prevention of unintended pregnancy until marriage,
31 prevention and control of disease, including age appropriate
32 instruction in grades K 6 through 12 on the prevention of
33 sexually transmitted infections,
The bill clearly calls for comprehensive sex education for kindergartners, a point made by Republican strategist Alex Castellanos on CNN during the September 10 Situation Room and the September 15 Election Center, by Fox News correspondent Major Garrett on the September 10 Special Report with Brit Hume, by McCain campaign advisor Lisa Graham Keegan on PBS's September 10 NewsHour, and by John McCain during MSNBC's September 16 Morning Joe.
And what did SB 99 mean by "age-appropriate" comprehensive sex education? Fox News's Sean Hannity explained to Hannity and Colmes viewers on September 10 what the coalition of organizations that was promoting SB 99 considered age –appropriate sex education for five-year-olds:
It talks about specific names of body parts for men and women and reproduction organs. [That] some people are homosexual; it means they can be attracted to and fall in love with other people of the same sex. Masturbation should be done in a private place. This in that level one curriculum that he supported. Why shouldn't that be a campaign ad?
The real content of the bill was not acknowledged by the Obama campaign. Instead, Obama spokesman Bill Burton responded to the McCain ad by saying, “It is shameful and downright perverse for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls” (emphasis added).
CMI found numerous examples of the media reporting, as fact, the language from the Obama campaign response:
September 10, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow: “The legislation in question was not sponsored by Barack Obama. It never became law and it was actually designed to warn young children about sexual predators.” (Emphasis added.)
September 12, New York Times editorial: “The kindergarten ad flat out lies. …at most, kindergarteners were to be taught the dangers of sexual predators.”
September 12, PBS's Judy Woodruff on NewsHour: “Obama supported a law to educate children on the dangers of sexual predators.” (Emphasis added.)
September 12, syndicated columnist Mark Shields on PBS NewsHour: “Obama voted for…a bill in the Illinois state legislature that would – for age-appropriate sex educations for youngsters taught to be – to warn them about adult sexual predators and what they could do to avoid and to discourage and to resist.” (Emphasis added.)
September 12, CNN's Larry King during The Larry King Show: “…the quote about kindergartners is not teaching sex to kindergarten kids. It's dealing with predators.” (Emphasis added.)
September 15, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow: “Obama supported legislation to help keep kindergarteners safe from sexual predators, and turning that into some creepy, anti-sex ed ad, it's not just a McCain lie, it is a prevarication miracle, totally unknowable through rational means.” (Emphasis added.)
On September 15, CNN's
CBS's Bill Plante did a little better in his September 10 “reality check” to Evening News viewers, but he still bought into the “sexual predators” fig leaf: “The facts: the bill introduced in the Illinois legislature never became law. It called for non-mandatory sex education for grades K – 12 that was 'age and developmentally appropriate.' For kindergartners, that included, among other things, 'how to say no to unwanted sexual advances.' Obama did vote for the bill in committee, and he says he supports similar laws in other states. But he said the point was to help parents teach their children how to deal with sexual predators.” (Emphasis added.)
At the July 23, 2007 CNN/YouTube debate, Obama himself said the bill was aimed at protecting children from predators:
I've got a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old daughter. And I want them to know if somebody is doing something wrong to them, encroaching on their privacy, that they should come talk to me or my wife. And we've had that conversation, but not every parent is going to have that conversation with their child, and I think it's important that every child does, to make sure that they're not subject to the sexual predators.
Byron York at National Review noted that a press release issued by groups who supported the 2003 bill in question, including the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, “contained no mention of sexual predators or inappropriate touching.”
SB 99 never passed the Illinois Senate. Ralph Rivera, state lobbyist for Illinois Citizens for Life, told CMI, “If it was only 'stranger danger,' it would have blown through the Senate and passed.”
As Castellanos noted on Election Center, SB 99 included “standards in there [in] which 5-8 year-olds should be, you know, talking about body parts, lifestyles and what feels good and a lot of American think that that's going too far. Now, you know, whether he intended it or not, that's what he voted for and that's fair game.”