Nightline Attacks DOJ Official Emphasizing Character in Fight against Juvenile Delinquency

On Monday's Nightline, reporter Brian Ross criticized Department of Justice (DOJ) staffer Jay Robert Flores for “playing favorites” on political and religious grounds in awarding grants to charities fighting juvenile delinquency.

Ross suggested that Flores was rewarding political allies in awarding the grants, though Flores may have simply been applying his moral values in choosing programs that build character over those that pass out condoms. 

Ross interviewed at length a disgruntled former DOJ employee, Scott Peterson, who was angry at Flores for relying on his own judgment, rather than rankings compiled by DOJ staffers, to decide which organizations would receive federal grants. 

Peterson accused Flores of “pure political patronage” in selecting grant recipients, and described his decisions as “cronyism,” “waste,” “fraud,” and “abuse.”

After Peterson leveled his charges of corruption, Ross added  “And Peterson says it is his former boss who is responsible.  Jay Robert Flores, a former prosecutor and devout born again Christian.”

According to Ross, “Peterson says Flores has steered millions of dollars to programs that had political, social or religious connections to the Bush Administration.”  

Ross said that in a telephone conversation with ABC News, Flores said “he was free to ignore the staff's recommendations, did not play favorites, and gave to programs that in his view met a need he saw in the field that had gone unanswered.”

Peterson complained specifically about a $500,000 federal grant DOJ awarded to the World Golf Foundation and its First Tee Program. DOJ's staff ranked First Tee 47 out of 104 applicants.  According to its Web site, the First Tee Program's mission is to provide “young people of all backgrounds an opportunity to develop, through golf and character education, life-enhancing values such as honesty, integrity, and sportsmanship. (First Tee site).  First Tee's honorary chairman is former President George H. W. Bush.

Ross attempted to ridicule First Tee's valuable mission of building character among teens, saying that “under the Bush Administration, the game of golf has been deemed one of the solutions to juvenile crime.”

Ross also attacked Flores for awarding grants to Best Friends, a program that promotes abstinence among teenagers.  Rather than acknowledging the benefits of a program promoting good moral values, Ross stressed that Best Friends was founded by Elayne Bennett, wife of former Republican Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, and that the DOJ staffers ranked her organization 53 out of 104 applicants. 

Flores declined to appear on camera for ABC News.  Ross attempted an ambush interview, asking Flores as he walked down the street, “What about the Elayne Bennett foundation—was that a favor for the White House?”

Ross also criticized Flores for awarding a grant to the National Football Foundation, which seeks to promote good character and values through football, and a youth baseball program “run by former all star and now possible Republican candidate, Cal Ripken Jr.”

As well, Ross attacked Flores for denying a grant application from Vista, a program that works with at-risk teenagers in San Diego, which the DOJ staff ranked first out of 202 applicants.  According to Ross, “Peterson says his boss doesn't like the fact the program also provides the teens with condoms and sex education.” 

Ross went on to claim that Flores would not support organizations that worked with gay or lesbian teenagers, and asserted that such teens are at elevated risk for suicide.    

While he did not play clips from anybody who defended Flores, Ross presented a second Flores critic, Earl Dunlap, executive director of the National Juvenile Detention Association.  Dunlap characterized Flores's grant decisions as “reprehensible and disgusting,” and described his actions as “stomping on the heads of kids who are very much at risk and in trouble in this country.”

Ross failed to explore the possibility that Flores had good reason to direct grants to organizations that teach character and abstinence to at-risk teens, rather than supply them with condoms.  Recent research highlights the success of abstinence programs.  The Institute for Research and Evaluation in 2007 found that “well-designed and well-implemented abstinence education programs can reduce teen sexual activity by as much as one half for periods of one to two years.” (full report)

As well, Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association says that “contraceptive sex education does not provide practical skills for maintaining or regaining abstinence but typically gives teens a green light to activity that puts them at great risk for acquiring STDs or which serve as gateway-to-intercourse activities,” (Washington Post) and a new RAND Corporation study shows that virginity pledges can work (USA Today).

Julia Seward is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.