Saturday, January 23, 2010

Biting the hand: sex ed fantasies and Feingold?

Hi everyone,

This week's column intended to bite the hand of my editors over some too-clever headlining during the last two weeks -- and then, this week, they come up with something perfectly clever and amusing. Rascals.

I also want to revisit some old business with the anti-fact-based-sex-education contingent on the local school board committee and with the muckrakers who are annoyed with Senator Feingold because they prefer the health care industry's math over estimates from the Congressional Budget office.

Saturday's column.

Biting the hand that feeds
Headlines can miss the Mark

I’m a little irritable about some editorial decisions my friends at the Daily News made over the last two weeks and thought I’d get it off my chest.

Imagine you wake up one Saturday morning and find your driver’s license picture plastered onto the front page of the local paper, looking a little bit maniacal and positioned above some bold type proclaiming “A sex education fantasy.”

That's what happened to me two weeks ago. My sometimes dangerous wife, grinning like a Cheshire Cat, handed me the paper and said “I thought they wanted to sell papers. Why would they put your face on the front page?”

I've begged for a new picture for a year but to no avail. My editor likes this one and so, gentle reader, please remember: I didn't pick this picture. And, I don't write the headlines, either.

For instance: I thought “A sex education fantasy” looked a little sensationalistic – like an advertisement for something on pay per view. The headline was probably supposed to lure you into the Opinion page like a hawker at a strip joint on Bourbon Street. Worst of all, it suggests the local columnist – that is, me – was claiming abstinence-based education doesn’t work. That’s not exactly right. I wasn’t claiming anything, personally. I was merely reporting what the 2007 federally funded nation-wide scientific assessment revealed about these programs. Had the study indicated that abstinence-based education did work, then that’s what I would have said.

It didn’t.

Moreover, abstinence isn’t a problem. It's obvious that sexual abstinence prevents pregnancy and STDs. The problem is this: what’s the best way to help kids, surfing the hormonal hurricane of adolescence, learn to make good decisions about their sexuality? Abstinence is certainly a good option, but what’s the best way to make it look like a good option to a 15 year old?

“Just saying no” doesn’t work. We have to find another way.

Fortunately there are programs all over the world that do work better than the curriculum we've now wasted hundreds of millions pursuing. I notice that some members of the Human Growth and Development Committee, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, continue to insist that this discredited abstinence-based sex education curriculum works. Fine. If they want to support a program with no measurable effects, while teenage pregnancy rates in America continue to match rates in the Third World, be my guest.

That was two weeks ago. Last week the headline on my column appeared to contradict what was actually in the column.

What I'd hoped to say last week was that while political moderation is no longer popular, it remains a virtue well demonstrated by our own Russ Feingold. You know, he crosses the aisle to find common ground with members from the other party and goes after government waste while continuing to promote ideas that embody the best tradition of progressive Wisconsin politics. The headline “Feingold, the moderate. Push aside ethics and you’re left with politics” looks like I was insinuating that Sen. Feingold was unethical: he isn’t and I wasn’t.

In fact, what’s been most interesting is the way the right wing media has whined that Feingold lacks moral character because, they claim, he isn’t listening to his constituents. This is balderdash. Feingold was listening. The noise makers at the MATC and Hartford listening sessions were simply frustrated because he doesn't agree with them. Does disagreeing with a bunch of angry constituents raise questions about an elected official’s character? If those constituents are correct, then, of course: yes. But what if they're a bunch of knuckleheads?

I thought I’d better check to see whether these disgruntled disruptors understand the health care bill better than their senator does. Here’s what we have to go on: the Congressional Budget Office says the health bill will save us money. I’m not an accountant so I’m stuck having to decide whether to believe the CBO, on the one hand, or the Heritage Foundation and the Insurance industry on the other. Frankly, at this point, I feel safer trusting a nameless bureaucrat with nothing to lose than a bunch of rich lobbyists who need to buy gas for their BMWs.

I admit it, that’s my bias.

But I'm trying to imagine being Sen. Feingold at this point, listening to a room full of ginned up constituents complain that Health Care Reform, which the CBO conservatively estimates will knock $132 billion off the deficit in the next 9 years, will cost more than doing nothing.

The proof of Feingold's character, his backbone, is that he didn't compromise what he knew to be the facts even in the face of even the most passionately wrathful crowd.

And that takes care of my irritability. It’s enough of a threat to circulation that the Daily News actually lets me write a column; they don’t need my picture – at least, not this one – on the front page scaring away readers.



Grant said...

"Show me who writes the headlines, and I care not who writes the columns."

Ellie Light said...

What is it with the Daily News lately? I wrote a pro-Obama letter to the editor, and they didn't publish it.

PaulyW said...

Maybe you forgot to include your address....

Feingold only hears what he wants, sends canned responses, and has not paid attention to polling data that shows opposition to the Health care bill. I asked him to poll the whole state and find out what "his" constituents really want.

Mpeterson said...

Sorry to hear that Pauly. He always responds in a completely professional way to me.

PaulyW said...

I never said it was not a professional letter. It is. He put out a press release after he returned to DC that he wanted to attack spending. I told him I support his stance and asked if he would concider changing his stance on commuter rail between Madison and Milwaukee. His prior press releases touted the 13,000 jobs it would create and I asked for the source of this claim. He sent me a letter that did not include any facts, yet it touted the Stimulus Plan. IMO - Stimulus is a big waste of money, and I think he can see it. They just don't want to admit they made a mistake.

I am sure he gets thousands of questions but to pigeonhole every question into a subject and then send out a prepared reply really defeats the purpose. I would almost have to think that the process of trying to talk or discuss any matter with your Senator is almost impossible. It creates frustration and thats what you see at meetings.